The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has slapped Facebook and 10 employers with class action bias charges after the social media giant allegedly ran hiring ads from the companies that were only visit to men. Yes — you read that right.
According to the ACLU, Facebook allowed 10 different employers to run hiring ads on the platform that entirely excluded women and non-binary Facebook users from seeing them. Now, the ACLU is doing what they can to hold Facebook to account. “I’ve heard stories about when people looked for jobs in the classified ads and big bold letters read ‘help wanted-male’ or ‘help wanted-female,’” said Bobbi Spees, one of the defendants in the case, in an ACLU press release. “I was shocked to find that this discrimination is still happening, just online instead of in newspapers.”
Hiring practices are still unfair, and when it comes to eradicating biases — whether racial or gendered — there is still a very long way to go. The last thing women (and other marginalized people) need is to get explicitly left out of the running altogether. And while Title VII of the Civil Rights Act allows companies to discriminate on the basis of religion, sex, or natural origin in instances when these factors are a "bona fide occupational qualification reasonably necessary to the normal operation of the particular business or enterprise" — which is how businesses like Hooters have gotten away with hiring only women — it's uncertain whether this Act had any bearing on Facebook's decision to run these ads.
When contacted for a statement, Facebook spokesperson Joe Osborne sent Refinery29 a statement that said discrimination had no place at Facebook. "It’s strictly prohibited in our policies, and over the past year, we’ve strengthened our systems to further protect against misuse," Osborne's statement read. "We are reviewing the complaint and look forward to defending our practices.” In the past, Facebook allowed housing ads to exclude people based on race and other criteria and utilized anti-Semitic ad categories.
It is a small comfort to know that the ACLU has filed a complaint with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to ensure that Facebook is held accountable for this problematic practice. Though these charges have been filed on behalf of three women, the ACLU feels the gesture speaks on behalf of “hundreds of thousands of female workers.”
I’d argue that these charges also speak on behalf of every women who know what it feels like to be left out of conversations, spoken over, or passed over for jobs or raises because of their gender. Whether it’s the wage gap, the lack of representation at executive levels or rampant sexual harassment, it’s rough out there for women in the workplace. Though these practices have historically existed, it’s worrisome to see the new, insidious ways they are manifesting today.
As rapidly evolving technologies spur new types of biases — algorithmic or otherwise — it’s crucial that we bear in mind the many ways that discrimination is able to thrive, often outside of our direct line of sight. The ACLU noted in their press release that online platforms are not usually responsible for user content (which includes ads). But, they are optimistic they will be able to hold Facebook accountable in this instance. Hopefully, this case will serve as an example that will help to set a new precedent for workplace discrimination in an increasingly tech-reliant space.